After quiet trade deadline, what's next for Blackhawks?

After quiet trade deadline, what's next for Blackhawks?

A year ago, the Blackhawks were clear sellers going into the NHL trade deadline because of what they had and where they were at in the standings. They shipped out Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels, and collected future assets in the form of draft picks and prospects.

This year was different. Very different, to the point where they left the roster as currently constructed by the 2 p.m. deadline.

"A couple things were on the borderline of happening, but at the end of the day we weren't determined to make a trade just to make you guys happy," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. "It had to make sense for where we're at, both short term and long term, and nothing came together." 

The Blackhawks weren't in a position where they could be true buyers or sellers. They were right in the middle. But they weren't necessarily quiet on deadline day because they felt stuck in between. They want to start building the roster back up and accumulating pieces that could help now but also in the bigger picture, similar to the two trades they made earlier in the season in acquiring Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula. And nothing materialized. 

So what's next for the Blackhawks?

While it was an uneventful trade deadline day, that doesn't figure to be the case this summer. The Blackhawks are expected to have north of $15 million in cap space, and that could increase even more depending on whether or not they shed additional contracts and how much the ceiling goes up. It's a big opportunity for the Blackhawks to speed up the process in a deep free-agent class.

"That's part of it," Bowman said. "Reshaping your team doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. It's not one or two moves. I think the process has begun already with some of the trades that we have made. You look back at where we were four months ago to the team we have now, and some things have changed for the better.

"We've really got two pretty reliable consistent offensive lines. Some of those guys — Caggiula wasn't here and he's been a nice addition, and same thing with Strome. Those moves have already happened. We're going to probably look at reshaping our team through potential trades between now and next season, as well as free agency. Those are the two ways as well as players graduating from junior to the American League or the American League to the NHL."

The Blackhawks are also excited about who they have in the pipeline that could push for full-time roster spots next season. Henri Jokiharju is in Rockford right now, but top defensemen prospects Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell could also be on the way soon and make the competition interesting. 

Clearly, there aren't enough spots for everyone and they're not likely to all be broken in at once. But that's a good problem to have, and gives the Blackhawks options in several different areas.

"Having too many players, I've never been concerned about that," Bowman said. "I would much rather have lots of options. Because when you do, then you can use them to fill in the gaps somewhere else. If we got too many guys coming and they're all going to help our team, I would take that position any day. So that's not a bad thing."

The results have finally come around for the Blackhawks on a more consistent basis. There are certainly still some holes to fill, but they're getting a lot of what they had hoped would happen from last season: Bounce-back seasons from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, a big next step for Alex DeBrincat, the emergence of Dylan Strome and a nice find in Collin Delia.

Now there's a desire to start adding around to the pieces they have in place. But there's no definitive timeline on when they hope to be Stanley Cup contenders again.

"The goal is to keep progressing year to year, so a year from now we want to be in a better spot than we are now," Bowman said. "Where that is in the standings, I don't know. We're not trying to map it out that precisely, other than to say we want to be in a better spot than we are today, and the same thing for the year after that. We're headed in the right direction for sure. The timing on how all of that happens, there's a lot of factors. It's hard to predict it. But we want to be a team that's in a better spot a year from now than we are now."

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Robin Lehner on things not working out with Blackhawks

Robin Lehner on things not working out with Blackhawks

Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner has only been with the Vegas Golden Knights for three days after being traded by the Blackhawks ahead of Monday's deadline. 

In a complicated transaction, Lehner was first traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Martins Dzierkals, a 22-year-old unsigned draft pick. Lehner and Dzierkals were then traded to Vegas, getting the Blackhawks goaltender Malcolm Subban, defenseman prospect Slava Demin and Vegas' second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist has drawn attention for talking about how things were handled with the Hawks twice already in the three-day span. 

RELATED - Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

After a Knights' practice on Thursday, Lehner was asked if his pending unrestricted free agent status was weighing on him. 

“To be honest, that’s not weighing on my mind," Lehner told Vegas media. "There was other things weighing on my mind. I mean, I haven’t played to my potential the last few weeks and there’s a few things that kind of played into that. 

"I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play. I came there with a good mindset to fit into the team. I mean, I didn’t play much in the beginning or the middle-beginning of the season, even if I played really well and had a good camp. 

"Eventually I took over and I think I won like nine out of 10, 12 out of 15, and we walked up one point behind a playoff spot. Then all of a sudden, I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, negotiations had totally died out.” 

Lehner signed a one-year, $5 million free agent contract with the Blackhawks. He and Corey Crawford equally split the net, with Lehner getting the edge in quality performances the first half of the season. 

Crawford had a .939 save percentage from Jan. 15 to the trade deadline. Lehner's was .899 during that span.

“At the end of the day, we’re players playing for our lives and playing for contracts,” Lehner said. “I felt for two years I’ve played really well and I still can’t get something done, and I’m playing well and I can’t play. It hits your motivation part a little bit and I’ve got to do a better job of letting that kind of go away.

“I thought there was a future there and I did everything to get a future there, and I still couldn’t get a future there. In the end, the last couple weeks were tough, mentally, to kind of find a motivation needed.”

Lehner was 16-10-5 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 33 appearances with the Blackhawks.

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What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

Going into the 2019-20 season, the Blackhawks had arguably the best goaltending tandem in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. But both of them were on expiring contracts and we always knew there would be a point when the organization had to make a decision.

One of those decisions was made at the NHL trade deadline when the Blackhawks traded Lehner to recoup some future assets. But there's still one more to be made.

What will the goaltending duo look like next season?

The Blackhawks have two goaltenders under contract for the 2020-21 campaign: Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins, both of whom are with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

Kevin Lankinen, who was an AHL All-Star this season, is a pending restricted free agent along with Malcolm Subban, who was acquired by the Blackhawks from Vegas in the Lehner deal and is likely to serve as the backup for the rest of the season. Subban is arbitration-eligible, so, he has some control about how his next contract could look

Crawford is the only one of the group who is set to become an unrestricted free agent and he's the most established of them all. It's no secret that he wants to remain in Chicago and still believes he can be an everyday starter in the NHL.

Crawford's concussion history and the fact that he's 35 years old should certainly be noted when evaluating the future of the position but the Blackhawks should be encouraged by what they have seen from him this season. He's gotten better as the season has gone on and should get a bulk of the starts down the stretch.

All things considered, it would be a win-win for both the Blackhawks and Crawford to agree on a short-term extension. It gives the Blackhawks a couple more years to find or groom their future goalie and allows Crawford to finish his NHL career in Chicago as a starter.

Now, the question is: who will be his backup?

The Blackhawks saw enough of Delia to reward him with a three-year contract extension at a team-friendly $1 million cap hit, which kicked in this season. He was expected to be Crawford's backup if Lehner didn't surprise the hockey world by signing with the Blackhawks on July 1.

It should be Delia's job to lose going into training camp. He proved himself at the AHL level. He elevated his game during the Calder Cup Playoffs. And last season with the Blackhawks, he led the team in 5-on-5 save percentage (.925), high-danger save percentage (.866) and goals saved above average (2.96).

Subban is the wildcard. Besides Crawford, he has the most NHL experience of the potential candidates on the current roster but has struggled to take the next step with a career 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 65 career appearances.

RELATED: What is the Blackhawks' big picture plan?

Another thing to consider is the 2021 expansion draft next summer. Every team is required to make available one goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his contract prior to 2021-22. The Blackhawks probably aren't a team that has to worry about this because the goalies in their pipeline have limited NHL experience but it's still worth noting.

The Blackhawks are in no rush to figure out the future of their goaltending situation but it will certainly be on their mind going into the summer.

"I wouldn't say we've mapped out who it's gonna be," GM Stan Bowman said. "We have a lot of candidates and we've got to make that choice between now and next season. We have Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Subban and Crawford. We're going to have to sort through that and look at the options. I don't have that answer for you today but, obviously, we don't have a proven NHL goalie signed for next year, so, we have to address that before next year.

"That’s something that’ll play itself out over the next few months here leading into the summer. We do have some decisions to make. It’s early to handicap what’s going to happen with the goaltending position. We need time to reset and analyze that."

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